Aside from practical purposes like diapers, food, and shelter, my stubborn toddler often acts like he doesn’t need me anymore.
I leave for work, and he waves “bye bye,” without a care in the world. Mom? Leaving? Ah, well.
Once, he needed me for everything. But he’s growing now, like a weed, and as he grows, he’s becoming more and more independent. And, like me — his mom — he’s never been one for affection. Long hugs are reserved mainly for bedtime as we rock and read. Kisses are given as a funny game, but not for affection. I can hold him, but mostly just if we’re dancing.
He marches to the beat of his own drum, and all I can do is look on and wave and drum a beat for him to follow.
But sometimes, my fiercely wild toddler who loves to run will slow down. Sometimes, he will sit on my lap and he won’t let me put him down. Sometimes, he needs me so much that he screams and cries when I try to let go.
And so I won’t.
When he’s tired, when he’s sick… sometimes I’m ALL he needs. I whisper in his ear as he cries that it will all be okay. He rubs his eyes in exhaustion and snuggles up close. Sometimes he needs me to hold him in tight, so he knows that the world can be big but it can also be small.
More often than not, he runs and laughs as I try to catch him but can’t. Almost always, he’s running away from me instead of to me. But sometimes he needs me, and he can’t run TO me fast enough. His tiny feet, those legs with the rolls… they fly toward me and I catch him in my arms. Sometimes he needs me to pick him back up, to know that you can be down but you can always get up again.
Sometimes he flies free in the grass, without a backward glance. He laughs and moves and I swear I can almost see the wings that will carry him away from me one day. I am not even a flicker in his mind as he throws his head back and looks at the sky, running like he has somewhere to go other than here. But sometimes, once in awhile that is, he tumbles to the ground and takes pause. The shock of falling sets in and he wails, remembering that I am there. And sometimes, he needs me to lift him from grass stained knees to remind him that all the bruises and heartache and hurt in the world — the pain I’d do anything to take for him and make it my own instead — can eventually heal.
And when he is afraid — from the barking of the dogs, from the merry go round and its constant spinning — my wild man, my funny boy… sometimes he needs me then, too. Sometimes he throws up his arms and he reaches for me and wouldn’t you know it? Sometimes mom hugs can make it all better. Sometimes he is begging for me to pick him up, because even though he can walk, sometimes he just needs me to carry the burden, the weight of his world, and I will.
It’s the saddest truth of motherhood I think, that as the days — then years — go by, my child needs me less and less. But for some things he will always need me.
He will need me to show him what unconditional love looks like. That you can make someone mad, but that you can still love them. That you can nearly always forgive even if you can’t forget.
He will need me in order to become the best person he can be. I will push him when he’s stopped. I will pull him when he doesn’t want to go any further. I will tell him that good things require hard work, and I will help him get those good things. I will help him work hard.
He will need me for band-aids on boo boos, to learn to talk. He will need me for rides to places, to learn to drive. He will need me for new clothes money, to learn to budget when he gets his first job.
Right now though? Well… some days, he just needs me to be there. To be present. To sit with him on the couch while we watch a cartoon. He doesn’t need me for anything specifically in this moment, but he knows that I am here and that I will never really leave him.